Friday, 25 January 2013 00:00
At its meeting on December 13, 2012, the North Shore Board of Education (“BOE”) voted to implement a new foreign language program, the World Language Program (“WLP”). The WLP is an expansive foreign language program that implements Mandarin Chinese in grades K-2, a choice of Mandarin Chinese or Spanish in grades 3-5 and adds Chinese as a language choice in the middle and high schools. It also initially called for the elimination of Italian as an accredited language in the middle school and high school, which sparked community outrage. As a result, the BOE was forced to reconsider its position and reinstate Italian.
Although the elimination of Italian was the impetus behind the community’s opposition to the new WLP, the adoption of this program raises a whole host of issues that need to be seriously considered by the BOE, the administration and this community. We need to look at how our tax dollars are being spent, the choices that are being made for our children and the responsiveness of the BOE to the community’s concerns and desires.
The newly revised WLP calls for the addition of five foreign language teachers. While the administration and the BOE claim that these additional teaching positions will be paid for by the projected reduction in enrollment at the elementary and middle school level with the consequent reduction in the number of classroom teachers, no hard numbers have been provided nor have we seen any projections as to how this program will impact the budget as a whole. It is difficult to understand how we can suddenly afford 5 new teaching positions when the following events have occurred: (1) the teachers were asked to and did renegotiate their contract in order to save 15 teaching positions; (2) parents of students enrolled in the district received a letter asking for a donation of $150 per student to the Viking Foundation; (3) the BOE and administration are currently in the process of doing a 10-year plan for capital improvements and developing a bond issue to be floated in January 2014 to pay for those capital improvements, and; (4) according to Dr. Melnick, we are facing a $2 million bill for teachers’ benefits. In light of the foregoing, rather than looking at how we can spend the alleged savings from declining enrollment, shouldn’t we be thinking of where we may need those savings to meet our ever increasing costs without exceeding the 2 percent budget cap?
The second issue is the choice of language. Dr. Melnick stated that one of the goals in changing our foreign language program was to increase fluency. If fluency is the goal, Italian or Spanish would seem to be the better choice where there is some possibility of parental involvement or of it being heard or spoken at home or on other media outlets. Chinese is a difficult language to master. In fact, this district previously offered Chinese at the high school and it was dropped due to a lack of interest. Moreover, as we focus on Chinese, we face the possibility of the elimination of French, Latin and Italian as language choices. It is hard to imagine how a small district such as ours can sustain a choice of five foreign languages.
The third issue is the responsiveness of the BOE to the concerns raised by the community. At the December 13 BOE meeting, the public spoke for two hours against the elimination of Italian. Yet, the BOE unanimously voted to implement the WLP and eliminate Italian without any discussion or even announcement. While the BOE claimed to “hear” what the community was saying, it obviously failed to consider the community’s sentiment.
The next BOE meetings will begin the process of formulating the budget. I encourage all members of the community to attend these meetings.
Marianne Manning Russo